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Why ‘Radical Body Love’ is Thriving on Instagram

Why ‘Radical Body Love’ is Thriving on Instagram
June 14
11:32 2017

The model Tess Holliday was on a plane to New York in May when a modeling agent she didn’t know doled out some unsolicited advice: cut out white sugar to further her career.

Last month, an Uber driver in Los Angeles asked about her cholesterol, to which she replied, “I am healthy.” She captured this exchange on video and posted it to Instagram for her 1.4 million Instagram followers; it has more than 380,000 views and nearly 4,000 comments.

“I wanted to let my followers know what I deal with in my life, and that if this is happening to you, it’s not O.K.,” Ms. Holliday, 31, said in an interview. “This is not acceptable behavior. I just hope it opens people’s eyes a bit.”

Ms. Holliday is not only unapologetic about her size-22 body, she is proud of it, with a confidence has catapulted her to mainstream fame. In 2015, she landed a modeling contract with Milk Management and a People magazine cover, and has become a leader in an online movement called BoPo, short for “body positive.”

The movement has become a growing force on Instagram in particular, acting as a counterweight to the millions of posts of tiny tummies and thigh gaps propagated by the thousands of traditional models who dominate social media.

Instagram allows us “to cultivate our own experiences,” Ms. Holliday said, who has a new book, “The Not So Subtle Art of Being a Fat Girl.”

“Prior to Instagram, you just saw whatever online. Now you can follow people that are into body positivity, feminism, radical body love, artists. People that inspire me,” she said.

“It’s really important to surround yourself with people that uplift you and support you, and so you really have a community of that.”

A digital space for all sorts of bodies

recent study ranked Instagram and Snapchat as the worst social platforms for body image, though Instagram had good marks for self-expression, self-identity and emotional support. And Instagram has made a concerted effort to foster these online communities by building programs around well-being, and by prioritizing safety and inclusion.

Hashtags like #bodypositive, #bopo, #bodyacceptance and #effyourbeautystandards — the one created by Ms. Holliday in 2011 — have been added to millions of Instagram posts, carving out a digital space where everyday people can share photos of their bodies and stories about body image.

Body positivity is more than weight acceptance, though. It is about accepting one’s body as it is, regardless of what is deemed socially acceptable or beautiful: from the external like acne, body hair, cellulite and stretch marks, to the more complex like physical disabilities or disorders.

By relying on images, Instagram opens the door to change in a way that transcends language and age, said Marne Levine, Instagram’s chief operating officer. “It is through that visual nature that people are able to be what might not have been obvious to them before.”

Take control, curate your feed

Organizations working to promote body positivity have seen an ally in Instagram, but at the end of the day, the onus is on users to take control of their accounts and “combat that toxic self-criticism,” said Claire Mysko, the chief executive of National Eating Disorders Association.

“When body hatred has dominated your daily thoughts and the ‘not perfect enough’ voice is on repeat in your head, curating your feed so that you see pictures of people of all sizes posting unapologetically without shame can be a powerful tool,” she said.

Body positivity does not mean feeling “ra-ra fabulous” about your body every day, she added. “We need to allow for body neutrality and just basic body acceptance too.”

Her association teamed up with Instagram to hold a panel in March that included Iskra Lawrence and Matt Joseph Diaz, both of whom are popular body-positive voices on the platform.

Ms. Lawrence, who has 3.5 million Instagram followers, stressed the importance of not letting your social media habits control you. “Life comes first, and you come first,” she said in an email. “If you don’t feel good on a certain page, block or unfollow it.”

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